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Chicago to continue remote learning as schools, teachers try to hammer out terms for on-campus return

Remote instruction will continue Tuesday and Wednesday, and the school district said there has been progress on a framework to a deal.
Image: Supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union participate in a car caravan
Supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union participate in a car caravan, as negotiations with Chicago Public Schools continue over a coronavirus disease safety plan agreement, on Jan. 30, 2021.Eileen T. Meslar / Reuters

Chicago's public students will continue remote instruction as the mayor and the teachers union continue discussions about plans to resume in-person education amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools called for a 48-hour "cooling off period" but said teachers who have worked remotely will retain access to their online teaching tool, Google Suite.

The Chicago Teachers Union said that means management is holding off on threats to lock out tens of thousands of teachers. The union president expressed a hopeful tone.

"We don’t want a strike. We want to keep working remotely as we bargain an agreement to return to our classrooms safely," union President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. "And we're one step closer to that goal today, because management has agreed to stay at the table rather than escalating conflict or locking out educators."

Teachers in the nation's third-largest school district voted late last month to continue to work remotely, saying the district was insisting teachers return to unsafe buildings.

Roughly 62,000 students and about 10,000 teachers and staff in K-8 were expected to return to in-class learning Monday for the first time since last March, part of the district’s gradual reopening plans.

Testing, vaccinations and the adoption of Covid-19 health metrics have all been cited by the union as sticking points, among other issues.

The mayor and schools CEO said Monday that they had reached an "important milestone" and that students will continue learning virtually Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We have secured agreement on one other open issue and made substantial progress on a framework that we hope will address the remaining issues," Lightfoot and CEO Janice K. Jackson said in a joint statement. "We are calling for a 48-hour cooling off period that will hopefully lead to a final resolution on all open issues."

The union's statement did not appear to mention a cooling-off period, but Sharkey said they made "real progress at the bargaining table today on a number of the most difficult issues of this negotiation."

The union says it has nearly 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel. There are around 340,000 students in the school district.

The mayor and schools CEO said in a statement Saturday that tentative agreements had been reached on issues that include temperature checks and other health measures, ventilation of buildings and contact tracing.

Illinois recently rolled out its latest vaccine phase that includes residents ages 65 and older and teachers. But districtwide efforts to vaccinate teachers won’t begin until the middle of February. City officials say there are many priority groups and not enough doses.

Lightfoot said on MSNBC Monday morning that "our schools are safe." She said the city invested over $100 million in ventilation and other safety measures.

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The union said Friday it needs "real progress in critical areas," and among other issues has called for is a "phased-in return tied to voluntary vaccination" and accommodations for educators who have household members that are at a higher risk of illness and death from Covid-19.

Lightfoot said on MSNBC Monday morning that in October a process was started for accommodations and that thousands of accommodations have been given. "We're trying to see if there is more that we can do," she said. The union has said that accommodations requests have been rejected.